'Loveline' has fun with sex ed, but gets message across TV: Quirky, hip show entertains viewers, but doesn't forget the real needs and the self-esteem of callers.

April 01, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

It's 11: 35 p.m. and you're flipping the channels on your television, looking for an alternative to Letterman and Leno.

Between the new Burger King ads and the "Odd Couple" reruns, you hear a catchy guitar riff, see a "TV-14" logo and a woman's torso, and hear: " 'Loveline' is for adult audiences. 'Loveline' may contain sexual content. Cool. Viewer discretion is advised."

Believe it.

MTV's "Loveline," one of the hottest new shows on cable, is sex education as entertainment. Sex education the way many of us wish it had been.

Forget the red-faced health teacher standing in front of a classroom. Forget being so embarrassed that you couldn't even ask about kissing.

Here are young adults willing to stand up, with a microphone, and ask on national television whether they should tell their boyfriend/girlfriend that they've been sleeping with their best friend, too.

The hour-long call-in show features a pair of unlikely co-hosts (one is a physician, the other a comedian), celebrity guests and an enthusiastic studio audience, but the real star is the very frank -- and often very funny -- discussion about sex and relationships.

On a given night, questions can range from how to handle a girlfriend's flatulence in bed to whether smoking pot will cause impotence to how to get away from an abusive boyfriend.

"Dr. Drew" Pinsky, an addiction-medicine specialist and the father of 4-year-old triplets, is the show's voice of reason.

Adam Carolla, a longtime Los Angeles disc jockey and bachelor, is the wise guy.

Celebrities -- ranging from "Melrose Place" actress Kelly Rutherford to rap artist Ice-T to comedian Bobcat Goldthwait -- chime in with revelations and advice of their own.

At first blush it appears that "Loveline" is Carolla's show (and Dr. Drew is his nerdy sidekick) but that's a carefully crafted illusion.

The television show, which debuted a couple of months ago, is an outgrowth of Dr. Drew's nationally syndicated radio call-in show. He got his start 14 years ago as a medical school student when he volunteered to help a couple of friends give relationship and sexual advice on a Los Angeles radio station.

At the time, "I was absolutely struck by the fact that the most important health issues these callers had were being handled by a couple of DJs," Dr. Drew said in a telephone interview.

Being able to help people has kept him "going and going night after night," Dr. Drew said. Carolla joined the radio show a couple of years ago, and it is still on the air in more than 20 cities.

Dr. Drew, 38, is old enough to be the father of many callers, but his youthful appearance -- combined with the hip atmosphere on the set -- helps him get his message across to the show's target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds.

The show is a Trojan horse of sorts, Dr. Drew said.

"I am accepted because Adam creates the engine that drives the message home," Dr. Drew said.

"We are trying to learn from the consequences of one's peers' actions," Dr. Drew told viewers recently.

He is disturbed by the lack of self-respect and intimacy that underlies most of the questions.

It's not uncommon to hear from callers asking something like: "I'm 19 and my girlfriend is 18. We've been going out for about three months, and sex has started to get boring ..."

Such calls are "a sign of emotional barrenness," Dr. Drew said. "Their emotional worlds are empty."

Invariably, these callers are contemplating getting a body part pierced in an attempt to enhance pleasure, or want to bring a third person into the relationship.

Dr. Drew is adamant: "This is a terrible idea."

He urges some callers to get counseling, chides others for fooling themselves, and reassures others that they are, in fact, "normal." (Masturbating is normal; doing it 12 times a day is not and could be a sign of bi-polar disorder, past sexual abuse or a brain tumor, he told a recent caller.)

"When I was 15, a show like this sure could have helped me," Dr. Drew said.

Although Carolla's wit is quick and crude, he fully supports Dr. Drew's mission.

"The show is a real unique opportunity for Drew and myself to do our thing in a non-exploitative environment," said Carolla. Unlike some daytime talk shows, "Loveline" does not hold people up to ridicule as "sideshow freaks."

"We hope to make some change and impart some knowledge" to people who are hungry for information, Carolla said. "We poke a little fun, make a few laughs, so young people will tune in and get the message."

Although the show is rated "TV-14," Dr. Drew said the content is probably not suitable for 14-year-olds. A spokeswoman for MTV said network policy banned questions from anyone younger than 18.

Dr. Drew and Carolla said they have received few complaints from parents, and encourage them to watch.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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